I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. (Matthew 2:10 NKJV)
Every year when I go through the annual ritual of braving the Wisconsin winter in search of the perfect Christmas tree and then dragging it through the lot, tying it to the car, lugging it into the house, bonking myself on the head repeatedly while trying to get it to stand somewhat straight in the tree holder, searching the basement for the ornament box, trying not to swear when I discover that half the lights didn’t work, running back to the store just before it closes to get new ones and then finally throwing the switch, watching it light up the night and proclaiming it the best Christmas tree ever, I find myself asking this simple question:
I’m embarrassed to admit that for decades I had absolutely no idea why all of us Christians go through this rather strange process every year. So I decided to do a little research. Here’s what I found, a little something we call …
THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE CHRISTMAS TREE
(IN 333 WORDS OR LESS)
The Christmas tree custom seems to have its roots (pun intended) in ancient Scandinavia and Europe. The winters there can be downright Wisconsin-esque, with howling winds, drifting snow and darkness seemingly engulfing the entire season. The Vikings and others came to admire the evergreen tree — which survived and even thrived in the worst of winters — as a symbol of hope. When Christian missionaries arrived in the area, they used the evergreen to explain God’s never-ending love for us even when things seem at their bleakest.
In the seventh century, legend has it that an English monk named Saint Boniface encountered a group of men gathered around a humongous oak tree. The men were about to sacrifice a child to the “god” Thor. Boniface quite reasonably demanded that they stop. When they refused, he smacked the trunk of the oak with his fist and it fell to the ground. As the dust settled to reveal a tiny evergreen that had been hidden behind the oak, Boniface used it as an object lesson. He explained to the men that the evergreen was like the Tree of Life, representing the eternal life offered by Jesus. He used its triangle shape to explain the Holy Trinity. Each of the men reportedly gave their lives to Jesus right there on the spot.
The Boniface story was repeated over the ages. In the 1500s, northern Europeans took it to the next level by bringing evergreens into their homes at Christmas time. The tradition of lighting the tree appears to have started with Martin Luther, who added candles to his evergreen to symbolize the light brought into the world by Jesus’ birth. The custom really took off when Queen Victoria erected a lighted Christmas tree in Buckingham Palace in the 1840s.
Today, the Christmas tree is a symbol of Christ’s eternal hope and light in millions of homes all over the world. Most are topped with a star symbolizing the “exceedingly great joy” Christ brings to the world.
Here’s a time-honored prayer you and your family can pray as you gather around your tree this year:
Holy Creator of Trees,
Bless with your abundant grace
this our Christmas tree
as a symbol of Joy.
May its evergreen branches be a sign
of your never-fading promises.
May its colorful lights and ornaments
call us to decorate with love
our home and our world.
May the gifts that surround this tree
be symbols of the gifts we have received
from the Tree of Christ’s Cross.
O Christmas tree within our home,
may Joy and Peace come and nest
in your branches and in our hearts.
(Image credit: Shutterstock.com)